Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sometimes a night at the theatre transports you to a wonderful world of heightened reality, blissful or provocative, hilarious or profound, with scripts you'd cut your arm off to have written and performances that break your heart. And sometimes it doesn't.
I don't know what to say about Anything but Love at the Brewery which envisaged a late-night whisky-and-confidences indulgence between lyricist Dorothy Fields and epigramist Dorothy Parker by tacking together a random selection of Parker's quips, other than that the women did their best with a limp script and the songs were very pleasant. They didn't use my favourite Parker-bite, though: One more drink and I'll be under the host...
From Bristol to Bath: Tim Crouch's My Arm had rave reviews but maybe the impact of this overlong overly-cerebral piece relied on Tim's personal performance style. The 're-imagined' version by Greyscale didn't grab me, and the Lego alter-ego of the man who held his arm up for 30 years was disconcertingly reminiscent of Eddie Izzard as Darth Vadar in the canteen on Youtube. Though not as entertaining.
The companion piece performance What would Judas do?, developed from an idea by Stewart (Jerry Springer the Opera) Lee, was more accessible, delivered with panache and small oranges hurled into the auditorium as rewards for participating with the actor's banter. I think this flying party-bag approach was part of the company's mission statement to "engage and manipulate our audience's experience of the stories we share with them... engaging the theatrical sensibility and expertise of the actor, designer and director as a provoking instead of reactive force". But I'm not sure.
The Ustinov won't mind my mystification: their target is 'an audience that wouldn't go to the Main House in a million years', director Andrew Smaje says. I learned more about how everything dovetails together from Danny Moar, boss of the Theatre Royal Bath, for my Plays International article. Complex in both senses of the word, TRB is an impressive model of integrated theatre projects, and great for the city to have a successful venue for popular shows with a commercial producing arm that subsidises its experimental studio theatre and children's theatre and even runs an education department too.
Over in the Arts-funded world, policies seem about as popular as bankers' bonuses, so it was impressive to hear Lyn Gardner, theatre spokesperson for The Guardian, sounding so enthusiastic at the big farewell party for Seth as he steps down from his role as director of Theatre Bristol. "Theatre Bristol is marvellous - a precocious baby in the changing face of theatre. Something is stirring in Bristol, and it's been started by Theatre Bristol - it's allowed people to dream about what kind of culture they'd like, and it would never have happened without Theatre Bristol."
Seth himself spoke briefly and more sombrely, ending simply "Let's have a party", and we did, with a 10-piece band to help out. I went with Rosie Finnegan to spread the word about Nevertheless Productions, our new pub theatre venture: for us, at least, Theatre Bristol has been valuable to help us access Bristol Mothership from the small satellite outpost of Frome.

Before Alan Bennett dipped into the Joe-Ortonesque angst that produced his misnomered play Enjoy, he was part of the sensational 60s silliness of Beyond the Fringe, and it's from this place of sublime absurdity that Habeas Corpus emerged. It's a superb farce, shimmering with sexual frisson and hyperbolic parody, with ludicrous lines like 'King Sex is a wayward monarch', a story of gratuitous trouser-drops and rapacious longings, embellished with snatches of song and poetic mini-monologues at unexpected moments. Frome Drama Club did the piece proud. The cast relished the gleeful comedy, and Philip de Glanville's direction, combined with the brilliant, cleverly used, set of scarlet doors, managed to bring out the subtle underlying poignancy too, as all these lonely people struggle to connect. A strong troupe with wonderful individual moments, but the star of the show was David Holt as Arthur Wickstead, whose final dervish dance was a simply unforgettable piece of theatre.

And, before this mirage summer vaporises, here's the image that has epitomised the days for me: magnolia seems to be everywhere this year, thriving on the late-arriving sun.

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